Glowing Ofsted report for first national college to be inspected

The first of the new national colleges to be inspected by Ofsted has received a glowing report.

The National College for Digital Skills was highly praised by the inspectorate for its effective teaching, “enthusiastic” learners, “excellent” careers advice and focus on increasing diversity in the digital sector.

The college, which is known as Ada after the nineteenth century pioneer of computers Ada Lovelace, was rated ‘good’ overall in its first full inspection published today, and received an ‘outstanding’ grade for the personal development, behaviour and welfare of learners.

Ada, which operates out of two campuses in northeast London, is one of the five national colleges created by the government with the aim of training more than 20,000 students between them by 2020, and the first to be inspected.

Inspectors praised senior leaders and governors for being “relentless in their ambitions to establish the National College for Digital Skills as a sector leader in its field.”

The college received particular praise for its efforts to encourage participation in digital skills from women and those from deprived backgrounds.

The report said leaders had “fulfilled their goal to recruit learners from disadvantaged backgrounds, and to recruit more females to study for a career in the computer science industry.

“They have deliberately chosen to locate the college in an area of significant deprivation in London and have overcome substantial challenges to find suitable premises.”

Despite difficulties with retaining learners in the early stages of their study programmes, inspectors found managers had taken effective action to increase participation and were now attracting learners from across London for their sixth-form provision, including a “high proportion of learners from the most deprived areas”.

The report said teachers have good industrial expertise and teaching qualifications, and are encouraged to keep up to date with their professional and vocational skills.

They use “imaginative teaching methods” which develop the independence and self-confidence of learner, and lessons are designed to “develop learners’ curiosity and deepen their conceptual understanding”.

“All learners receive excellent industry-related guidance and experience. Apprentices work for high-profile companies in the digital industries. Study programme learners have multiple opportunities to take part in projects designed and influenced by professionals from industry. Each learner also receives dedicated one-to-one support and guidance from a professional mentor.

“This creates invaluable opportunities for each learner to gain unique insights into job opportunities and the world of work, specifically customised to their own particular interests,” the report said.

Learners and apprentices “enjoy their studies and make good progress” and were described as “highly motivated” and with “highly professional attitudes and behaviour”. Inspectors said the ethos at Ada “positively encourages diversity and is welcoming and friendly”, and vulnerable learners are well supported.

Tom Fogden, chief operating officer and dean of Ada, said the college had set out to support under-represented groups “on a journey from 16 years of age through to highly skilled digital roles and flourishing lives”. 

“In just two years of operation, we are incredibly proud to be realising that ambition,” he said. 

“We have more to do, but these early successes give us a great foundation from which we will start to deliver, at greater scale, on our organisational aims. 

“We have developed a proof of concept which shows that it is possible to be a centre of excellence and an engine of social mobility. Seeing is believing.” 

The college has 129 learners on level three study programmes, and 125 adult apprentices working towards a level four apprenticeship in digital skills. Apprentices work for companies including Google, Siemens and Deloitte.

Last month FE Week reported that Ada was under considerable financial strain after minutes from board meetings in February and March revealed concerns over “whether Ada will ever break even purely with government funding”.

However, a spokesperson insisted it was on track to break even in this academic year and go into surplus next year. She also said that enrolment was lower than forcecast because the college had been forced to “constrain our numbers” as the larger premises it was due to move into this year were not yet ready.